Saturday, October 9, 2021
Reading: Matthew 15:1-9 
 
"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines." - Matthew 15:8-9 
 
God is concerned with our hearts. What is on your heart? What moves you and motivates you? What brings you delight? What felt needs do you have? What are you dedicated to and are willing to sacrifice for? What is it that drives you toward action? All of these questions are a matter of the heart. The answers to these questions are those things that make us tick.
 
Later on in this same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells the Pharisees, "For out of the heart come evil intentions." Good things can come from the human heart and, as Jesus alludes to, all kinds of "evil" things can come from our hearts.
 
One of my favorite stories to tell is an old Cherokee tale about an elderly Cherokee brave who shares with his grandson about a battle that goes on inside every person. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil, it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lying, false pride, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith." The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather. "But Grandfather, which wolf wins?" The wise old Cherokee replied, "The one that you feed." 
 
I love this story because it's one to which we can all relate. If we're honest with ourselves, we'd admit that we sometimes feed the one wolf and then the other. There is a battle between good and evil that rages within each of us. I suspect that this is why Jesus, when his disciples asked him, "Teach us to pray," included in his model prayer, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." Jesus is well aware of our internal struggles. But the Lord's Prayer instructs us to turn to our Father in heaven, who tempts no one, but desires that we flee from evil by turning to God.
 
We have every opportunity each day to make room for good or for evil in our lives. It depends on "which one we feed" as to which one will win out or have its way with us. Yes, God is concerned with what's on our hearts, because it is there where we can be passionate about that which is good or life-giving or evil and death-dealing.
 
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, in order that we may live into our passion of loving you. Amen.  
 
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE IMMANUEL LUTHERAN WEBSITE WILL BE DOWN FOR A FEW DAYS AND THE PASTOR'S BLOG WILL RESUME WHEN THE NEW WEBSITE IS UP AND RUNNING. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE! 
Posted By: 10/8/2021 11:43:44 AM

Friday, October 8, 2021
Reading: Hebrews 4:1-11 
 
So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. - Hebrews 4:9-10 
 
Yesterday we looked at the psalmist plea, from Psalm 90, "O prosper the work of our hands." We considered God's call to each of us and our vocation as Christians who are all part of a priesthood of all believers. The work that we all do is sacred, as in our work we give glory to God.
 
Today we are looking at resting from our labors as we observe the sabbath. As God rested from his labors, so too, God calls us to follow suit and rest from the work that we do. It is the seventh day of creation observance that is considered as sacred or holy, set aside to rest and also to worship. 
 
In the workaholic culture in which we live, observing  rest is difficult to come by. We come to think that the busier we are the more worth we have. We let our work define who we are rather than allowing our Creator God to define our identity as being created in God's image as children of God. If we become entrenched in our work, the delight that we find in it wanes thin and we eventually will become worn out. 
 
Nature knows the importance of rest. We see this even in the seasons when trees are active and green will loose their leaves and enter into the dormancy of rest in winter. As part of the natural world, we too are part of the cycle of activity and rest. Sleeping is a reminder to us that our bodies and minds need to shut down in order to rejuvenate, as new cells are formed and our minds of cleared of any sensory overload from the day. 
 
Part of our rest includes worship as we observe one day, as God did, to look back at the work of our hands, declaring it "very good," and praising God for being part of the cycle of life. 
 
Let us pray: As we work, God, so shall we rest. May we find a time of renewal and refreshment, away from the work that we do, so that we may pause and give praise to you. Amen.  
Posted By: 10/7/2021 6:37:26 PM

Thursday, October 7, 2021
Reading: Psalm 90:12-17 
 
Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper the work of our hands - O prosper the work of our hands! - Psalm 90:16-17 
 
Martin Luther understood, contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in his day, that all Christians have callings which are equal in moral and religious seriousness. They only differ in function. In other words, Luther was at odds with the church, and its teaching that believed that the calling of clergy was superior to that of the laity. This forwarded Luther's teaching of the priesthood of all believers in which work was seen not as some mundane job or occupation, but rather it is a calling or a vocation. 
 
Luther did more than break the split between sacred and secular work - he empowered all believers to know their work served humanity and enjoyed God's full blessing. As we work in our God-given station in life, we become agents of God's providential care. As Luther stated, "God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid. Through our hands God answers the prayers of his children. We pray for daily bread at night, and the bakers rise in the morning to bake it." The same holds for clothing, God "gives the wool, but not without our labor. If it is on the sheep, it makes no garment. Humans must sheer, card, and spin." 
 
As the psalmist proclaims, "O prosper for us the work of our hands," we are encouraged to be engaged in the holy vocation in which God has blessed us with gifts to share with the rest of creation. God blesses the work that we do, be it crafting a cradle out of wood, feeding a cow for food, or proclaiming God's word and administering the sacraments. 
 
Let us pray: Prosper O Lord the work that we do this day, that it may be pleasing in your sight and give glory to you; through Christ we pray. Amen.  
Posted By: 10/6/2021 5:20:03 PM

Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Reading: Matthew 5:27-36 
 
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  - Matthew 5:29 
 
I preached a parallel passage recently from Mark's Gospel (Mark 9:42-49). I'd mentioned in the sermon Jesus' use of hyperbole or exaggeration. Jesus uses this exaggerated language, which sounds quite alarming to us, to get his listener's attention by employing some shock value. Plucking out eyes and cutting off hands is not something that Jesus' intends for us to do. If we look more closely at the origin of our sin or sins, it doesn't come from the eye or the hand but rather from deep inside ourselves, within our hearts. Does this mean that Jesus wants us to pluck out our hearts? No! But what it does mean is to have what is called, "A change of heart." 
 
Later on in Matthew we see Jesus in his long teaching discourse speaking to those who had gathered to listen, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23). Jesus is speaking these words between his talk about treasures or wealth. The "unhealthy eye" that Jesus is talking about here sounds like envy, jealousy, or covetousness. 
 
In terms of the passage in Matthew 5, the eye which darkens the soul has to do with lust. Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Here too, the offence originates within a person, one's heart. The eye is a lamp by which, in this case, darkens the soul. It is not a case of literally plucking out one's eye as it is searching one's heart, the source of the lust. 
 
The words of the writer of Psalm 51 may be helpful here, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your holy spirit from me" (Psalm 51:10-11). 
 
Let us pray: Merciful God, you know what is in our hearts. Cleanse us and restore us from within, so that we may experience the light of your presence and have life. Amen.  
Posted By: 10/5/2021 5:40:43 PM

Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Reading:  Psalm 42
 
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
- Psalm 42:1-2a 
 
As I was driving early in the morning on my way to the church, I spotted three deer crossing in front of me. I thought to myself, Why would they be right here on a St. Francis city street?  They crossed right in front of me and stunned for a moment at the headlights of the car, and sped on down the paved street. They looked younger to me. I thought about the fact that there were three of them. Three for the Trinity, I thought to myself again. 
 
They'd been roaming about, these three teenage deer, not looking for any trouble in that earlier hour in the morning, as perhaps human teens might be doing, roaming around the streets in the dark of morning. They were looking for food I suspect or something to drink. I don't think that deer just roam, but they're looking for something. 
 
The psalmist writes about how he is like a deer longing for flowing streams from which to drink, thirsting for the living God. It was St. Augustine who said, "Thous hast made us for thyself, O Lord,and our heart is restless until it rests in thee." We all have this inner longing to be connected to God; to be in communion with our Creator. 
 
Human beings are the only creatures in God's creation who are conscious of our connection with God. Although all creatures are connected to God as being part of God's creation, they do not consciously think about God. This is what makes us unique as human beings and perhaps why we read in Genesis 1 that we were created in God's image. We have a unique place in God's created order which sets us apart from the rest of creation itself. 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, our hearts long for you; our souls thirst in you. You satisfy our longing by being present for us and being in unique communion with you. We praise and thank you that you have drawn us close to you. Amen.  
Posted By: 10/4/2021 1:40:00 PM

Monday, October 4, 2021
Reading: Psalm 55:1-15 
 
And I say, "O the I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest. - Psalm 44;6-8 
 
One of my favorite movies is the Coen brothers film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou." One of the reasons I like the movie so well are the toe-tapping gospel and bluegrass songs. One of those songs is the gospel hymn, "I'll Fly Away." The lyrics speak of a journey to heaven: 
   Some bright morning when this life is over 
   I'll fly away
   To that home on God's celestial shore
   I'll fly away
   I'll fly away, oh glory
   I'll fly  away, in the morning
   When I die, Hallelujah by and by
   I'll fly away.  
 
There I a sense of peace and tranquility in this song about going to heaven. The song that the psalmist sings is not a desire to fly away to heaven, as it is about flying away from the threat of death itself.
 
There are times when we all want to fly away or flee from something, be it life's difficulties, a threat to our health, feelings of distress from a strained relationship. The psalmist desires to flee to find shelter "from the raging wind and tempest." As storms rage about us and within us, we seek shelter in the Lord who is our refuge in strength in times of trouble. God's presence gives us a sense of peace that none other can give. We may not always feel God near us, but God is as close to us as our very breath. 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, that we had wings like a dove and flee from the raging storms of life, we would seek your very presence to find peace. Amen. 
 
Posted By: 10/3/2021 4:21:43 PM

Sunday, October 3, 2021
Reading: Psalm 8
 
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? - Psalm 8:3-4 
 
I remember many years ago now when we were living in northern Minnesota and we were away from all the bright lights of any city. I looked up into the darkened sky and beheld the Northern Lights or otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis. The colored light show was spectacular and gave me a sense of awe and wonder. It is in such moments as this that give us a sense of insignificance, that we are indeed small in comparison to the vast universe which God has created. 
 
The writer of Psalm 8 must have had this same sense when he composed this psalm, "When I look at the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have made, what are human beings that you're mindful of them?" Even when we're not looking up and seeing what's around us closer to the ground, we receive this same sense of awe. Looking at the intricacies of nature and how we're all connected in this web of creation, we can get goose bumps. The work of God's fingers is indeed amazing! 
 
The second part of this same verse in Psalm 8 should not go unnoticed. "What are human beings...that you care for them?" Here too, we have a tremendous sense of awe and wonder when we consider in this vast universe that God has created that God would care for us. God cares enough for us to have given us a role in the created order, "dominion over the works of (God's) hands." We have dominion over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. But as God cares for us, in this role of having dominion over all things, we are to care for the creation. It is an important role that we are given, to be good stewards of God's creation; not to abuse it or misuse it, but to respect it as we tend to it.
 
We are mindful of the creation account in Genesis in which God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31a). This vision of seeing that created order as "very good" ought to be reflected in how we act toward creation in the special role God has given us. 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth. May we give glory to you as good stewards of your creation. Amen. 
Posted By: 10/2/2021 10:35:20 AM

Saturday, October 2, 2021
Reading: Luke 16:10-15 
 
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.  - Luke 16:14 
 
We hear in 1 Timothy 6:6-12, "the love of money is the root of all evil," or as some translations read, "the root of all kinds of evil." This verse is often misquoted to read, "money is the root of all evil." There is a big difference between "the love of money" and just "money" as being the root of all evil. Think about it. Money itself is not evil since there are a lot of good things that can come from the proper use of money: food, shelter, clothing, and offering that does toward missions and other good causes. But if one "loves money" there is a question here of the human heart, which involves what we desire, what we pursue, what we live for, and whether our heats are set on things of God or merely material things. 
 
In this passage, Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees concerning money or wealth. Jesus' primary concern is our relationship with God and with one another.  Money, according to Jesus, is simply a means for us to live in order to survive but could be something that could control or enslave us. Jesus says to the Pharisees, No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." 
 
When money or wealth becomes the driving force in our lives, we become a slave to it. No longer do we live in the freedom for which God intends. Ironically, we live as though we are always in need of more money, because then we will be more comfortable, and we won't have to worry about things so much. But when this becomes the consuming force in our lives, we easily lose sight of the real reason for living; to find joy in our relationship with God and with others.
 
It's funny how tight fisted we become about money. We work hard for it, therefore, it becomes our decision solely about what we do with the money we have. We forget to include God into the conversation, acting as though we know better than God. And this is where we get into trouble. We end up becoming slaves of money, worshipping it and not the God who has given us everything we need in order to live. This is where we come to live by the philosophy of scarcity, that we don't ever have enough, rather than trusting in the God of abundance.
 
Let us pray: Most gracious and generous God, we confess to you that we have held onto wealth as though it is ours alone with which to decide. Humble us by the example of your Son through his life and teachings of giving which brings true joy in our living. Amen. 
Posted By: 10/1/2021 1:11:19 PM

Friday, October 1, 2021
Reading: Romans 8:1-11 
 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. - Romans 8:1 
 
At first glance, it appears as though Paul is saying that we should hate our bodies, our flesh, as he put it.  As in other parts of Paul's writing, he has set up a dialectic of two things that are in opposition to one another. One of his most familiar dialectic is the flesh verses the spirit. Paul uses the Greek word sarx, which is typically translated as "flesh" in most contemporary translations, which has a negative connotation, as it stands in opposition to the spirit. But in John's Gospel, he uses the same word sarx in a very positive way, "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14). So flesh is seen as good also. 
 
In a weekly reflection that I follow, by Father Richard Rohr, he has written a helpful article about flesh and spirit in which he says, "The closest meaning to Pau's sarx is today's familiar word "ego" - which often is a problem if we are trapped inside of it. So what Paul means by "flesh" is the trapped self, the small self, the partial self, or what Thomas Merton called the false self. Basically, spirit is the whole self, the Christ Self, the True Self "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3) that we fall into by grace. The problem is not between body and spirit; it's between part and whole."  
 
Rohr goes onto talking about sarx or the ego which tries to define itself apart from God. The problem is not that you have a body; the problem is that you think you are separate from others - and from God. But you're not. We live in our bodies and deal with our bodily needs on a daily basis, which is not a bad thing, it just is. We also are of the spirit, in which we live in the realm of relationships that we also deal with on a daily basis. This is good also. The body and the spirit are not in opposition of one another, but are each part of what makes up who we are. It is when we neglect the relational part of our lives, including our relationship with God, where we have problems. 
 
The early church had to deal with the conflict between body and spirit called Docetism arising in the 2nd century AD. It held that matter was evil and the spirit was good. This position posed particular problems with the belief in the Incarnation. We hear in John's Gospel that the Word, the Christ, took on flesh: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). 
 
The flesh itself is not evil or bad. It is the ego that gets in the way that thinks that it can go it alone, apart from God and our relationship with others that is evil or bad, because it denies God's good intent for us to live in a right relationship with the Father and with other people.  
 
Let us pray: O God, we are wonderfully made as body and spirit, to live for you and with one another. Grace us by your Spirit, which breaths life into us to live in a right relationship with you and each other; through Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen.  
 
 
Posted By: 9/30/2021 10:33:13 AM

Thursday, September 30, 2021
Reading: Galatians 3:23-29 
 
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  - Galatians 3:27-28 
 
It is not as common as it once was, but infants who are baptized would wear a white gown. This gown looked like a dress and would be worn by either a female or a male who is being baptized. "This was the baptismal gown worn by my mother and her mother before her, so it has a special significance," I've heard someone say at the start of a baptism more than once that I can recall. The greater significance is the gown is white, signifying the purity of one who is baptized as been cleansed from the life-giving waters of baptism. 
 
The significance of that gown, of having put on or being clothed in Christ, is revisited upon the death of the one who is baptized. It is not a gown, as such, but a large cloth which is white and often bears the symbol of the cross, and placed upon the casket. It is called a funeral pall. This pall is placed on the casket, usually by members of the family of the deceased, in the opening words of the funeral liturgy. In the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book, the opening section is called the "Thanksgiving for Baptism," in which the presiding minister will speak these words, "When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."  
 
The significance of placing of the funeral pall upon the casket at the beginning of the service is to remind the faithful who are gathered that we are clothed with Christ in our baptism. It also is a visual reminder to the congregation that we are one in Christ. in our baptism. The casket, be it made of cheap pine or expensive oak, is masked by the pall, signifying that we are all one in Christ, that is, any economic barriers no longer exist.
 
In our baptism, there is no longer any distinction; there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor. We are all united in Christ Jesus our Lord through our baptism. 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, we are united in Holy Baptism in Christ Jesus. We give you thanks for making us one in him as all distinctions have been washed away and we have taken up our identity in the one in whom we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.  
 
Posted By: 9/29/2021 4:14:27 PM

Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Reading; Matthew 18:6-9 
 
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." - Matthew 18:6 
 
Apparently, a milestone weighs hundreds of pounds. The image of a millstone  around someone's neck is an ominous one if you were a stumbling block before a little one who believes in Jesus, then it would be better for you if  you were thrown into a deep sea where there is no escape.  
 
The little one, the child, in Jesus' day had no regard, no status, no distinct place in society. So Jesus takes the least regarded in society and puts that one in high regard in the kingdom of God. This places all who are who are least, lost, and last among the beloved as the most esteemed in God's eyes. Throughout Scripture we see that God looks out for those who are most vulnerable. The law, the prophets and the fulfillment of both in Christ have demonstrated God's love for those who are considered the least in society.
 
I want you to do an exercise, if you will. Close your eyes and think about those whom you would regard as the least. They may be those who seem unloveable and unredeemable. They are perhaps those whom you despise and disregard because they go against your better values. Or it may be those who are different than you in color, culture, social and political status. You know who they are. You can probably even name some. Now imagine that they are gathered into God's loving arms. You may feel resentment, jealousy, and distain for them. Now take all those feelings and put a millstone around those feelings and throw them into a deep sea where they are forever lost and forgotten. If you feel a sense of freedom and release, then you have experienced God's grace within you. 
 
Let us pray: The great millstones of sin are entangled around our necks, O God. We release them into the sea of your forgiveness. As we are freed up from our sin, so release us from reigns of judgement that we hold over others. Amen.  
 
 
Posted By: 9/28/2021 9:25:36 PM

Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Reading:  Psalm 140
 
They make their tongue sharp as a snake's, and under their lips is a venom of vipers. - Psalm 140:3 
 
"But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." - Anonymous 
  
The psalmist definitely has issues with his enemies whose evil plots and wicked ways are threatening to undo him. Apparently, the tongue of the enemy has been a weapon used to tear town the writer of this psalm. There is a verse Proverbs that speaks to this, "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment" (Proverbs 12:18-19).
 
We've all had to face "enemies," who at one time or another would seek to tear us down. There's never any really any good reason that people wish to use their tongues to speak gossip or use slanderous language against another, other than in order to try to build themselves up. 
 
When our daughter, Anne, was in middle school, there were a couple of "friends" of hers that decided to spread some untruths about her around the school. The hurtful words upset her so much that she decided to change schools. As it turned out, Anne's decision to go to a different school was one of the best decisions she has ever made. She thrived in her new school, made new friends, and discovered some life-long gifts.  Anne wasn't going to let the venom of others gossip poison her life. 
 
Words can certainly be destructive if one's words are not carefully used. Inasmuch as words can tear down, they can also build up. We rely on God's good word to do just that for us, especially when we encounter words that are used to help to destroy.  
 
Let us pray: Gracious God, your words to us can bring comfort and the support that we need, especially in those difficult times when words have been used against us to tear down and destroy us. Grant us wisdom to use our words carefully in order to give you glory. Amen.  
 
Posted By: 9/27/2021 2:54:51 PM

Monday, September 27, 2021
Reading: Psalm 5 
 
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.  - Psalm 5:4 
 
Wickedness and evil, this is the stuff that makes for good movies or novels because they create conflict and intrigue. This is probably why movies, such as, Star Wars or the Indiana Jones series have been so popular. I'm not so sure why the human psyche is so drawn to it, but we tend to be attracted to it or at the least find it fascinating.
 
Although we may be repelled when we actually come across in real life someone we'd consider as wicked or evil and want to distance ourselves from them, if we are honest with ourselves, there is a little bit of wickedness and evil within each of us. It may certainly not be as blatant as some of the characters that we discover in some of these films and novels that I mentioned, but it is present in us nevertheless, and rears its ugly head from time to time in subtle ways. It goes by many names: pride, lust, envy, jealousy, malice, and greed. 
 
Now it's important for us to keep separate God's love for us and wickedness and evil. The psalmist declares that God is not one who delights in wickedness or that evil resides with God. Although we may show signs of being a bit wicked or evil, as subtle as they can be sometimes, God yet loves us, "even while we were yet sinners," we hear in Scripture (Romans 5:8). This doesn't mean that God likes the wickedness or evil that we do, but God loves us, no matter what. That may be difficult for us to understand or accept, but it's true. And this is where faith comes into play. There comes a time when we need to let go of our unforgiving ways towards ourselves, and might I add towards others, and come to trust or take God's word for it.
 
Let us pray: Dear God, we come to you seeking forgiveness from our wicked and evil ways. May we come to trust in your word of love for us, as we let go of our guilt and live in the freedom of your love. Amen.  
 
Posted By: 9/26/2021 10:09:03 PM

Sunday, September 26, 2021
Reading: Mark 9:38-50 
 
"For everyone will be salted with fire Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." - Mark 9:49-50 
 
Years ago I saw the movie with Ray Milland in the lead role called, "The Man with the X-ray Eyes." The movie stuck with me, at least, the final scene did, in which Milland's character who had x-ray vision comes across a tent revival in the middle of the desert and overhears the evangelist quoting this Bible verse, "If your eye offends you, pluck it out!" He chooses to blind himself than having to live with his eyes which sees more than he cares to see, which out his life in a downward spiral. 
 
Jesus, of course, is using exaggerated language to warn his disciples of the dangers of sin, including becoming a stumbling block to those who are doing his will in his name that may not be part of the regular circle of followers. Jesus isn't really telling us to cut off a hand or plucking out an eye. He is using alarming language to wake them up a bit. Don't worry about what others may be doing in my name, he is telling them. Be concerned about your own sin. At the end of the passage, Jesus tells them to have salt in themselves. In other words, he's telling them to be useful, just as salt can be useful, that is, unless its lost its saltiness. What good is salt then? 
 
This passage in Mark is a very strange and difficult passage to navigate. But it's one that reminds all who wish to be his followers to be useful to the cause of God's work in Christ, and not to get so caught up with what others may be doing in his name. God can use even the most unlikely people to accomplish his mission - even those with whom we don't happen to always agree. 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, may we be as salt to the cause of furthering the gospel. Open our hearts and minds also to others, even those with whom we may disagree, who are being as salt in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen. 
Posted By: 9/25/2021 10:01:58 PM

Saturday, September 25, 2021
Reading: Matthew 5:13-20 
 
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  - Matthew 5:14-16 
 
What does it mean to be a light? Perhaps we can start by what light does. It allows us to see the world in which we live in order to function in the world. It gives growth to living things. It causes warmth. So, in the same way, to be light is to be a channel for others to see God more clearly.  Through us, it means helping people to grow in their relationship with God and one another. It also means God working through us to be a warm and welcoming force in the world to offer others God's gracious hospitality.  
 
In the service of Holy Baptism the pastor says, lighting a small candle from the larger baptismal candle, the words of Jesus in this passage, "Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works to give glory to your Father in heaven." I happen to think that these words, although intended for the newly baptized who is often times in our tradition an infant and cannot understand, are meant more for for the sake of the parents, sponsors, the child's family, and the whole faith community that is gathered. We can all do well to recall from time to time these words that were spoken at our baptism, that we are light. 
 
What does it meant to be light? It means allowing God to shine through us. We're not to hide that light from others but to let that light shine forth boldly so others can see God more clearly. I'm reminded of the beloved gospel song, "This Little Light of Mine." An abbreviated version goes like this, This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine, Oh, this little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. All around the neightborhood, I'm going to shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm going to let it shine. Don't let Satan blow it out! I'm going to let it shine. Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.
 
Let us pray: O Lord, may we be as light to shine forth your love to others in the world who desperately need to see you more clearly and feel the warmth of your gracious love. In Jesus' name. Amen. 
Posted By: 9/24/2021 10:41:27 AM

Friday, September 24, 2021
Reading Acts 12:20-25 
 
And immediately, because [Herod] had not given glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. - Acts 12:23 
 
I always find passages, like this one in Acts, to be a bit peculiar. An angel striking down Herod, being eaten by worms and then dying. What seems strange to me is first of all, it is an angel that is sent to strike the king down. Second, is that he is struck down and first eaten by worms and then dies. I thought the worms came after a person dies. But apparently it is the worms that are the cause of Herod's death. Perhaps he was struck down with some sort of infection in which maggots were eating away at this skin. If this is too much for you, I'm sorry. It grosses me out! I can't even watch this show on television that my wife and daughter are intrigued by called, "The Pimple Popper." It depicts Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper, a dermatologist, performing surgery on patients with all kinds of skin conditions. 
 
Enough of the gross stuff. So what is the gist of this passage, that we can take something useful from it? Maybe the message isn't so much in the details having to do with worms and death, as who it is that the angel strikes down, King Herod. Herod is working against God and therefore God will strike out against him. It says in Acts, "Because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down..." and "The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents." The message is perhaps, don't stand in the way of God's mission of what God wants to do in the world. 
 
This coming Sunday at Immanuel Church we will be receiving new members through the Affirmation of Baptism service. Within that service there is a portion called, "The Renunciation." In it. the questions are asked, "Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that draw you from God?" And those affirming the faith in which they are baptized respond, "I renounce them." This is part of the Affirmation service, which is part of the proclamation preceding the confession of faith through reciting the Apostles' Creed, in which the participants are stating that they stand with God over-and-against those things which stand against God.  
 
I love the quote from C.S. Lewis in which he says, "There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan." One is either for God or against God - there is no middle ground. This somewhat peculiar and gross passage reveals to us that the Spirit of God that was unleashed at Pentecost cannot be contained or controlled. Don't get in the way of the Spirit in what God wants to accomplish in the world. 
 
Let us pray:  Empower us by your Spirit, O God, to renounce those things that stand against you, as we proclaim with our words and very lives the things that are of you. Amen. 
 
Posted By: 9/23/2021 1:14:01 PM

Thursday, September 23, 2021
Reading:  Exodus 18:13-27 
 
Moses' father-in-law said to him, "What are you doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone."  - Exodus 18:17 
 
Moses is wearing himself out down to the bone. People are coming in droves to see him to settle disputes that they have with one another. It's too much for one person to handle. Moses' father-in-law thankfully steps in and with great wisdom and rescues Moses from being totally burned out. He recommends that some leaders, who are trustworthy and honest, help out as judges so that the case load becomes less of a burden for Moses. 
 
This story could be an example of the value of volunteers in the church. As the old proverb says, "Many hands make less work." The health of any church largely depends upon volunteer support. In this time of COVID, churches have seen a major decline in volunteering for obvious reasons. Thankfully, slowly but surely the volunteer support is returning. 
 
It's important for volunteers to continue to be involved in the life of the church in using the gifts that God has given each of us. Another important reason is that those who volunteer their time and talent will also be the very ones who also give of their treasure. They have a vested interest in the well-being of the church, as they have invested of themselves to promote the church and its mission. As a pastor, I've come to appreciate over the past 35 years, how vitally important volunteers are as faith is put into action. We all have a part to play, as clergy and lay members, as workers in the kingdom of God to further God's mission to the world.  
 
Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for the women and men and young people who share their gifts with the church, as we join together in your mission in Christ to the world. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/22/2021 1:52:02 PM

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Reading: John 8:21-38 
 
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." - John 8:31 
 
There are some serious questions that arise when Jesus speaks of his word, truth, and freedom. He has strung these words together to describe what he is all about as the Son of Man. He has come to speak the truth about God's love for his people, their rejection of that love, and God's relentless pursuit of his people to bring them closer to God. 
 
A disciple is one who follows his teacher, a rabbi, as someone who is learned and steeped in God's word in Scripture. The word that God reveals in Scripture divulges the truth about God's love for us. It is love that sets us free. To everything else, we are held captive. As God has shown love to us through the Son, we are set free to love one another. 
 
In Matthew's Gospel we hear the story of the lawyer who asks Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" And Jesus' response to him is, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, 'You  shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."  
 
Jesus compiles together in these two commandments his teachings, which were lived out in his very life, and demonstrated in his ministry with his followers as he reached out with God's love, especially to those who were hurting. We are all hurting on one way or another and seek healing. Quite often, the hurt is a result of an unmet need in our lives, stemming mostly from a lack of love shown to us in some way. 
 
As God's love frees us to love one another as we love ourselves, may we live in that love as the driving force in our daily lives. In so doing, we will be living into the truth that truly sets us free. 
 
Let us pray: God of Love, we are slaves to so many things. Release us from whatever holds us captive to live for you - loving you, our neighbor, and ourselves; through Christ our Lord. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/22/2021 9:59:50 AM

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Reading: Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 
 
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. - Ecclesiastes 4:9 
 
This passage is often read at weddings for obvious reasons. It explains the benefits of having a partner in life in which, as an old proverb goes, will multiply your joys and divide your sorrows. There is an advantage to have a partner in which to share life's experiences, especially when times are tough. As the writer of Ecclesiastes declares, "If they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help."
 
This passage reminds me of Jesus' words, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female.' and said,  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate" (Matthew 19:4-6). 
 
I like the marriage vows in the old Lutheran Book of Worship  in which the bride and groom face each other, join hands, and proclaim their promises to one another with these words: "I take you (name), to be my wife/husband from this day forward, to join with you and share all that is to come, and I promise to be faithful to you until death parts us." The words "to join with you and share all that is to come," is significant here, as it expresses the sickness and health, poverty and wealth, part of the couple's promise to one another. It shares their individual intent to join together and face whatever may come their way as they lift each other up if one or both should fall.   
 
All this being said, the most significant sentence in this passage is verse 12b, "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." Why is it so significant? Because inasmuch as two find more strength in their bond than one, a threefold cord is stronger even yet, when God is involved in a relationship of marriage. God holds us all together in the bond of love. 
 
Let us pray: We thank you for the gift of marriage and the joy that it brings. Strengthen those who have been joined together in the vows of marriage in their two-fold bond with one another and also in the three-fold bond with your love for them and their love for you. Amen. 
Posted By: 9/20/2021 9:55:27 PM

Monday, September 20, 2021
Reading: Psalm 139:1-18 
 
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? - Psalm 139::7 
 
There are three "omni" attributes of God, as all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. This verse in Psalm 139 speaks of God being omnipresent. God was present at the creation of the heavens and the earth and God is present with us in the here and now. God is not limited by time and space but God's presence permeates all space and occupies all time.
 
Thinking about God as being present in all places throughout the expanse of time is comfort to the psalmist. For those whose lives are troubled, knowing that God is present can be extremely reassuring. If there is any fear in suffering and in death itself is the thought that God is absent or that God has abandoned us. 
 
I remember as a child, the person that I would often go to whenever I was feeling troubled, insecure, or when I was injured in any way, was my mother. She had just the right words to say to soothe me and her presence was an assurance to me that everything would be alright.
 
The psalmist expresses the promise of God's presence in times of trouble. This assurance is a comfort to us but sometimes we need what someone once expressed that we sometimes need a "god with skin on." Our invisible God who is omnipresent is a comfort to be sure but is made real for us through the incarnate love of an actual person present for us and with us. This is why opening ourselves to God's love in our care for one another is crucial. As human beings, we need the healing touch and talk of each other. This doesn't mean that we don't look to God's promised presence, but it does mean that we recognize that God  can and will work within us.
 
Let us pray: O God, where can we go from your presence; you are everywhere. May we be open to your presence to work within us your healing into the lives of others. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/19/2021 4:35:39 PM

Sunday, September 19, 2021
Reading: Mark 9:30-37 
 
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."      - Mark 9:37 
 
It's ironic, isn't it? Jesus just told his disciples that the Son of Man is to be betrayed and killed as a suffering servant and the disciples were arguing with one another as to who was the greatest among them. As a way for them to better understand what it means to be truly great, Jesus sits down and takes a child in his arms and tells them that if they want to be first then they must be last, like the child. 
 
Children were considered a burden in the ancient world. They didn't have rights or not even protected like they are in our culture today. Children were considered the least or the bottom of the heap in the order of society then. So when Jesus takes up a child and tells the disciples to welcome such a child, he is talking about caring for the least, the last, and the lost. This, according to Jesus, is what it means to be first in the kingdom of God. 
 
It's so easily missed in the text, but Jesus sitting down is important to note. In sitting down he is taking on the role of a rabbi or teacher in their midst. He is demonstrating to the disciples that what he is about to tell them is important for them to hear.  
 
In the overly competitive culture in which we live, we would do well to follow the teaching of Jesus of what it means to be first or the greatest in the kingdom of God. It means taking on the role of a servant and caring about and for others, especially the least, last, and lost in society. We get so caught up building our own little kingdoms on earth that we fail to take up Jesus' teaching seriously with our lives. It's not enough to believe in Jesus but we are to believe him, which means, to take on his teachings with our very lives.
 
Let us pray: Dear Lord, we get so caught up in our own little worlds that we neglect the one world in which we are all a part where there is great need. You have shown us the way through Jesus life as servant of all. Now may we live into the role of servant in reaching out to the needs of those around us. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen. 
Posted By: 9/18/2021 9:03:26 AM

Saturday, September 18, 2021
Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-18 
 
What has been is what will be and what has been is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1:9 
 
You may recall the popular song that the actress and singer, Doris Day, sang, "Que Sera, Sera" (Whatever Will Be Will Be). The lyrics begins with a little girl asking her mother what she will be, "pretty, rich, and marry and handsome man?" The mother responds to her with the words, "Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be. The future's not our's to see. Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be." I am reminded of this song when I read the opening words from the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. The writer of this book of wisdom is referring primarily to not being able to change the past, however, "Que Sera, Sera," speaks about the uncertainty of being able to shape our future. 
 
It's no wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes begins with the words, "Vanity of vanities ! All is vanity." It seems pointless for us to consider any human activity to help shape the events that unfold in life. We certainly cannot undo the past. What has been done is done. And as the mother in the song tells her daughter, "Whatever will be will be," we are uncertain how we can shape our own future. There are variables, or things that are beyond our control that play into whatever happens to our future. 
 
We can approach life having a defeatist attitude, throw up our hands, and say, "Why even try?" The alternative is to place our lives in the hands of the one who holds all things together. Ultimately, God is in charge, we aren't. That may be a frightening thought for some who like to have or think that they have complete control of their lives. But isn't this what faith is about, relinquishing our need to control and to "let go, and let God." This doesn't mean, of course, that we go through life as though we don't have any say or influence at all. To the contrary, God uses us as instruments of God's will to help shape a better world. But without the sense and the assurance that can only come through faith, that God is our strength, then we may as go through life throwing up our hands and uttering like the writer, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" 
 
Let us pray: You Lord are our strength and our defense. Open our eyes to see that our lives are not lived in vain, but that you use us as instruments of your will to make a better world. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/17/2021 8:50:54 AM

Friday, September 17, 2021
Reading: Psalm 1 
 
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do they prosper.  - Psalm 1:3
 
On Wednesday night the collaborative youth ministry, including confirmation, began between Trinity and Immanuel Lutheran Churches. This year the theme is the Bible and specifically this fall we will be looking at the Old Testament. Pastor Mike 
Pancoast from Trinity Lutheran gave the message which was an overview of the Old Testament. This theme was supported by the scriptural text of Psalm 1. Pastor Mike talked about how we read various parts and books of the Bible in different ways, such as, we read narrative that we find in Genesis differently than we read the psalms which is a collection of songs. 
 
Pastor Mike mentioned that there are certain parts of scripture that we read metaphorically, such as, this verse, "They are like trees planted by streams of water." People are not literally trees, but we are like trees that are planted by steams of water. And like trees, we are rooted where we may prosper and our roots grow deep into the soil. We are not trees we are but like trees in which, if planted, we prosper. 
 
Rooting ourselves in God's word will bring about well-being and vitality, whereby, we may better serve God.  As we look forward to many Wednesday nights together in our collaboration that is "Living IT!" we will revisit the biblical stories that tell us of the promises of God in which we are rooted in the very waters of God's word of God's grace and mercy. 
 
Let us pray: Gracious God, may we be planted beside the streams of water that brings forth life in our parched lives, giving us hope. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/16/2021 4:16:21 PM

Thursday, September 16, 2021
Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 
 
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 
- 1 Corinthians 2:1 
 
Some find it necessary when presenting the gospel to others to use highfalutin speech. But, as the Apostle Paul says, we don't need to use elaborate or pompous language to convey something that is meant to be understood with straightforward language. For some reason, when it comes to talking about religion, some think that they have to speak a different language or use certain words to convey religious concepts. Paul talks about speaking not with "plausible words of wisdom, but with a  demonstration of the Spirit and of power." 
 
One of the things that I learned over the years about preaching that I've found helpful is the value of extemporaneous speaking. Former pastor of Immanuel, Jerry Larson, who has taught a class and written a book, "Freely Speaking the Word," on the subject of preaching using the method of extemporaneous speaking has been very helpful to me. The impact of "speaking freely" upon those in the pew is much better received than the preacher merely reading from a manuscript. The word is received as coming from the heart of preacher or "Spirit filled." 
 
When we share our own stories of faith we don't have to use eloquent language or stick to using certain religious words.  Sharing with others how the gospel has transformed us is a matter of the heart which comes from the Spirit of God working within us.It is not a matter of the using the right religious jargon. 
 
Let us pray: Dear God, move us by the Spirit to share the story of your love in our lives with others. Amen. 
Posted By: 9/15/2021 10:11:33 AM

Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Reading: Proverbs 29:1-27 
 
The poor and the oppressor have this in common; the LORD gives light to the eyes of both. - Proverbs 29:13 
 
To have sight is the ability to see or observe things with the eyes. It can also mean that a person is able to perceive, identify or understand something. There is also that sight which is recognized and comprehended as insight. Insight is an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding or apprehending the true nature of a thing. 
 
Unjust rulers oppress innocent citizens, and the rich persecute the poor, but good and bad alike receive the blessings that God gives to all people. This is much the same as what Jesus teaches, "God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). 
 
The difference between the poor and the oppressor is that of insight. The poor will see their need of God as they cry out to God out of their hunger. But the oppressor will lack the insight of needing God as they seek not what they need from God but by taking advantage of others in their misuse of power. 
 
The wisdom of the writer of Proverbs is that true sight or insight comes from seeing our need of God and recognizing the source of our blessings as coming from God who is the giver of all good things. 
 
Let us pray: May we see with the eyes of faith, trusting in your provision each day, O God, and recognizing our dependence on you. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/14/2021 6:04:32 PM

Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Reading: Colossians 3:1-11 
 
Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth. - Colossians 3:2 
 
This was my confirmation verse. Nowadays, at least at Immanuel Lutheran, confirmation students select their own confirmation verse. My verse was chosen for me by the pastor that confirmed me, Pastor Noren at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Pastor Noren didn't really know me, so he hadn't selected a particular verse because he thought it fit my personality or character. I think that he just randomly selected the verse from a list that he had on hand.
 
I hadn't attended Mount Olivet Lutheran Church's confirmation classes because I was living overseas in South Africa at the time. I was given a few books to read, some sheets to fill out on what I'd read, and then have a brief visit with the pastor before being confirmed. We lived in South Africa for two years and then came home for a visit, at which time I was confirmed together with a girl who had been living with her family in Austria.  
 
I've thought about my confirmation verse over the years and the ways in which I perhaps hadn't kept my mind fully on godly things. It's impossible to keep our minds on "things that are above." We are, after all, human and we will tend to think of earthly things. We have passions and desires, together with covetous and greedy thoughts; not being fully content with our lot in life, always thinking we need something more or better or even different. 
  
The Apostle Paul writes to the church that our lives have died and is now hidden with Christ in God. and therefore we are now clothed in a new self. Paul says that we are to clothe ourselves in things like compassion,kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. These are the heavenly things that Paul is talking about that we should keep our minds on. It isn't always easy. Clothing ourselves in Christ isn't just like changing our clothes. It takes a conscious, concerted effort on our part to keep our minds on these godly things. 
 
"Above all else," Paul writes, "clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." As God in Christ has loved us, so also, ought we love one another. I think that this includes loving ourselves, which means that there is an element of forgiveness involved. We need to let go of the notion that our minds will be kept perfectly on the things that are above. There again, if we're able to forgive ourselves, we are more apt to forgive others.
 
Let us pray: O God, rule our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who has revealed to us what it means to keep our minds on the things that you're about. Amen.  
 
 
 
 
 
Posted By: 9/13/2021 1:01:34 PM

Monday, September 13, 2021
Reading:Psalm 119:169-176 
 
Let my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. - Psalm 119:170 
 
I presided at a wedding the other day. it's been a while since I have performed a wedding, not just because of COVID but fewer and fewer are getting married through the church anymore. Most weddings take place in conference centers and flower gardens. But I had a small wedding of a couple who had an attendance of ten people. Just because the wedding was small doesn't mean that the promises made between the bride and groom were small or insignificant. 
 
The couple wanted me to combine the two wedding vows from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book. it looked something like this:
 
I take you ______ to be my wife/husband from this day forward, to have and to hold from this day forward, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow. 
 
The promises made between a man and a woman in marriage is a commitment or civil agreement with each other. I still remember what  my internship pastor told me about wedding vows, "It is a commitment to the idea of being married." That may seem insignificant or perhaps even sound like it is stating the obvious, but unfortunately many marriages fail because the couple is not committed to the idea of being married. Somewhere down the line they give up on the idea of commitment. This is not to minimize the pain that some couples face because of issues of the three "A's" of an addiction, an affair, or abuse that may be present in a marriage relationship.
 
The promises that God makes is a unilateral commitment to us which is based on God's love for us which is unwavering. The promises that we make with each other, such as in marriage, is contractual. It is a bilateral agreement in which two agree to commit themselves to the promises or vows that they have made. Whereas, God's promises to us not based on us and our efforts. But the promise that is given to us by God is FOR YOU only insomuch as we receive it in trust. God's promise isn't going to amount to much unless we believe or come to trust that promise. God loves you. Believe it. It's true. 
 
Let us pray: O God, through your Son, you have revealed to us your steadfast love for us. May we trust in your promises for us now and always. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/12/2021 9:36:34 PM

Sunday, September 12, 2021
Reading: Mark 8: 27-33 
 
[Jesus] asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" - Mark 8:29 
 
This question is the crux of Christianity. The question of who Jesus was created more conflict in the early church than most anything other. Many of the early Christians were Jews who wrestled with the faith which caused a lot of controversy. Jesus is asking this question in the villages of Caesarea Philippi. This was intentional on Jesus' part because Caesarea Philippi was the bastion of paganism. It is here where there were shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan. 
 
Herod the Great had erected the Temple of Augustus in 19 B.C. to honor Caesar Augustus. Herod willed the region to his younger son Philip when he died in 4 B.C.. Caesaria Philippi was named thus for both Philip and in honor of Caesar Augustas who was considered a god. And so, Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" in the region steeped in paganism and emperor worship. Jesus is posting himself as an adversary of all these other gods and declaring himself indirectly as Messiah, or Anointed One of God, affirming Peter's confession.
 
Peter's confession reveals the truth about Jesus the Christ (Messiah), but fails to understand just what kind of Messiahship Jesus is about. His rule is one in which the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be handed over to the religious authorities, and be killed and in three days rise from the dead. Jesus, in fact, takes it a step further by telling his disciples that whoever wishes to follow him must take up their cross and deny themselves by losing their lives.  
 
Denying ourselves is not a popular notion these days. It's more about me, myself, and I. And yet, to deny one's self means to relinquish the sense that I am chiefly living for myself. But following Jesus means taking on a sense of belonging to Christ who shapes the reality of his followers through giving of one's self. There are many gods with which to contend, just as it was in Caesaria Philippi. Jesus directs his followers to walk in his way of service to others in which one finds one's life or purpose in him. 
 
Let us pray: Dear God, there are many gods in our lives which vie for our attention and dedication. May we be devoted to the One who reveals himself as the Messiah, as we take up the cross of servanthood in his name. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/11/2021 5:27:33 PM

Saturday, September 11, 2021
Reading: Psalm 137
 
"By the waters of Babyon - there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered Zion." - Psalm 137:1
 
It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the date 9/11/2021. It's been 20 years since that ill-fated day of the terrorist attacks on the United States. you can probably recall where you were on that day when you first heard the horrible news of the attacks. I was in the kitchen getting ready for the day to go to work and the television was on in our kitchen. I saw the image of smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Towers and thought that it was no more than I fire until I turned up the volume and heard that a commercial jet liner had plunged into the tower. I was stunned as millions of other Americans were that day, watching in disbelief. Then the horror was magnified as we watched a second jetliner pierce the second tower. Later, we would hear the news of another airplane that was hijacked over Ohio and crashed into the west side of the Pentagon and then another airplane flew toward Washington D.C. and crashed in a field near Shanksvill, Pennsylvania after some of it's passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers. 
 
The attacks resulted in 2,977 fatalities and over 25,000 injuries and substantial long-term health consequences for many others. it remains the deadliest terrorist attack in history.
 
The psalmist's cry is that of the exiled who were taken out of their home country and brought to a foreign land. Whenever there is a tragedy, the victims cry out to God and question, "How can we continue to sing the Lord's song?" Where is God when such tragedy strikes. In our search for meaning and to appease our anger we want to lash out like the psalmist. The writer of Psalm 137 concludes with the words, "O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have don't to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones  and dash them against the rock!" 
 
Such a deep feeling of anger and yearning for revenge! There is no denying our feelings when it comes to tragedies that befall us. But what do we do with those feelings? That's an important question, and one with which we each have to wrestle. It's not to be taken lightly. What do we do with those feelings? What good can come from the ashes of 9/11?
 
I've been watching news specials about 9/11 leading up to today, including one in which men and women were interviewed. They were either survivors of the attacks or grown children of first responders who were recalling the brave acts of their parents who died in an attempt to rescue others. It was heartbreaking to see, but very encouraging as well. Many of the children of 9/11 whose parents died trying to rescue others in the attack had grown up to be fire fighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians. They are examples of continuing the legacy of their parents and stepping into action, wanting to help others rather than being consumed by anger and hatred. 
 
What good can come from the ashes of devastation? I think that the answer is in a letter written long ago by a man named Paul to a church in Corinth. ""[Love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:6-8a). 
 
Let us pray: O Lord, we pray this day for healing - of a nation, families, and individuals whose lives were shaken twenty years ago on this day. Bring hope to their lives, our lives, our country, and our world through your love that never ends. In Christ we pray. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/11/2021 9:18:17 AM

Friday, September 10, 2021
Reading, James 2:17-26 
 
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. - James 2:24 
 
I had mentioned in a previous reflection that Martin Luther referred to James as the "epistle of straw." He said this because he didn't think that it didn't contain anything of the nature of the gospel. Luther also stated that there was no direct mention of Christ in James.  That being said, there is no record of Luther ever stating that James be removed from the biblical canon. But he did suggest that perhaps any reading or references to James be thrown out of schools. 
 
In Matthew 7:15 we read these words of Jesus, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." Could Jesus be describing those who do good works as opposed to those who do bad works? In John 15:12 Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And the in John 15:16 he concludes the section on love by saying, "I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last." In Galations 5 we see the list of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galations 5:22-23). 
 
I think that Luther was not at odds with the results of one's faith, that being, the good fruit that it produces. What Luther had difficulty with was the understanding that we are justified or right with God through our works. And Luther is right, I believe, in saying that we cannot get right with God by anything that we do. We cannot earn favor with God by our works. And yet, I think that James' point that faith without works is dead. I don't think that someone can say, "I believe in Jesus Christ," with their lips and not reveal what they believe with their lives. In other words, the result of our faith is to produce good fruit not to get right with God or earn God's favor. We are already justified through our faith in Jesus Christ. But what good is a "follower" or Jesus Christ who does not bear good fruit?
 
Let us pray: Gracious God, we believe that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, and not by our works. May we bear the good fruit of his in what we say and do this day. Amen.  
Posted By: 9/11/2021 8:29:00 AM

Comments:
Guest8/20/2020 6:39:53 AM
Goes right with the hymn “We Are Called”. Now that will be going through my head for awhile. Suggestion: Could this Post a Comment be right below the daily blog every day? Otherwise you have to scroll down to the bottom of all to find it.

Guest8/20/2020 6:39:53 AM
Goes right with the hymn “We Are Called”. Now that will be going through my head for awhile. Suggestion: Could this Post a Comment be right below the daily blog every day? Otherwise you have to scroll down to the bottom of all to find it.

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Vicky 8/19/2020 8:06:34 AM
This is so needed in our “Today’s” world for everyone. Once again Trust God and Have Faith! Thanks Pastor. (Cabin fresh air let me sleep in till 6:30 today.) 😊

Guest8/18/2020 9:38:24 AM
Thanks for your feedback Vicky. I wondered if I was posting the reflections too late for some, like yourself. I am going to try to do them a day early so I'm ahead of the game. Although, when I say this, I realize that I am already behind.

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Vicky Anderson8/9/2020 8:29:08 AM
I will miss your devotions but I like the idea of interacting. However I wish you could post earlier as I like my spiritual time early in the morning. I was always reading your devotional a day late so I could do my devotions at 5-6 am when I wake up.

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